The Blair Witch Project


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Blair Witch Project
"The performances are naturalistic and believable. The dialogue sounds improvised - no-one could write banality this well."

Take a deep breath. Exhale the hype. Settle down. What do we have here?

"In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary... A year later their footage was found."

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Is this what this is? The Project? Well, almost.

Eight tenths of screen time is taken up with messy handheld bumbling about in woods - trees, leaves, grass, stones, a river, setting up the tent, taking it down, walking, shouting, having rows, laughing. There is no art in this, no cinematic quality worth talking about. It makes the Danish Dogme series look sophisticated. Also, Heather (Donahue) and Mike (Williams) and Josh (Leonard) are not fun companions.

They act stupid, which may well be the point - "three stupid student filmmakers disappeared in the woods" - and are conversationally out to lunch. "It's pouring rain," Heather tells us. "We can't even get a fire going." Shot of trees and rain.

However, the concept is clever. The performances are naturalistic and believable. The dialogue sounds improvised - no-one could write banality this well. The trick is to lull the audience into a false sense of normal, so that when they hear noises in the night and find odd things in the morning, it's going to spook the hell out of them.

As filmmakers, these so-called-students haven't a clue. They hike off into the forest, having asked a few locals in the village about the witch myth (camerawork all to pot), filming each other doing outdoor stuff and not really knowing what they're looking for. In which case, why keep the cameras rolling?

Credibility wears thin. They have a map. They don't know how to read it. They have a compass. They still go round in circles. They admit they're lost. Panic and hunger set in. They come back to the river they have already crossed. Why don't they follow it? Rivers run straight, remember.

It almost works. You know the ending. You don't know how. "A year later their footage was found." This is not their footage. It has been edited. Each student carried a camera of sorts, either black-and-white or colour. The finished version mixes these up, giving an illusion of continuity, except there are moments, particularly in the final minutes, when filming continues where in reality it couldn't.

Fear is what you imagine, not what you see. Hitchcock built his reputation on that. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez, the creative team, are in good company. They deserve their success. They tried something new - a rare occurance these days. Pity their protagonists are such dorks.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Handheld, hyped-up horror.
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Trinity ****

Director: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Writer: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez

Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard, Bob Griffith, Jim King, Sandra Sanchez

Year: 1998

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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